In September, I suggested a reading order for the extended universe of Stephen King's The Dark Tower, a series I loved, but hadn't read any of since Volume 7: The Dark Tower came out in 2004. I realized that I missed the characters from the series, and wondered if the reading order I suggested would really hold someone's interest all the way through. I scoured some local bookstores, and then the internet for the hardcovers of the books, and prepared for my quest to read a Super Long series of books.
This may have been the first time I've ever read this book. I mentioned in my original post that I stopped reading it when I was younger because Anne Rice and the '90s had ruined vampire stories for me. But I said that "I didn't pick it back up until I was reading Wolves Of Callah over a decade later, and they referenced one of the characters from 'salem's Lot, so I put that book down and went back and actually read 'salem's Lot." Now I'm not so sure that I did. I think the ending I remember is from the flashbacks in Wolves of Callah and maybe Song Of Susannah? I had no idea who would live and who would die (apart from the character who resurfaces in the later books). I didn't remember almost any of the major characters or plot points. Happily, much like at the end of the previous book, when I was finished, I felt like it was my favorite book so far. And it's only the second of King's books ever published. One of the few that's older than me.
When interviewed about his role in Glitter: Ancient Vampires Love High School Girls With No Personalities, Robert Pattison was asked if he weren't in the movie, whether he would have enjoyed it. He said he "would have mindlessly hated it."
It's easy to hate vampire stories, since there have been thirty years of bad television shows and movies where vampires all live sunny California for some reason, and prey on high school girls. At least, that's my assumption. Apart from "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and "Angel", I haven't devoted any time to vampire shows. And I think "Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Motion Picture" and "Once Bitten" were the last vampire movies that didn't bore me to sleep.
I read enough of Twilight to mindlessly hate it. It gave me flashbacks of the Anne Rice endless vampire saga, which I started to read in high school, and which completely lost my interest by the second book. Vampires are boring.
A good vampire story isn't about the guilty ancient dude (always a dude as the protagonist, female vampires are almost exclusively minor characters) torn by his past but needing to feed on the living in order to survive. Good vampire stories are about the people trying to either kill or escape from the vampires. Which is why 'Salem's Lot is one of the best.
In The Shining, the first third of the book was about a failing marriage, and taking a job in order to survive. It was a people story. The horror aspect slowly crept in, but even then, the book isn't about the haunted hotel, it's about the family that falls apart in it. In 'Salem's Lot, the vampires a ridiculous possibility that can't possibly be the real problem until they are.
And when the vampires do come into play, they themselves aren't actually the frightening part of the book. The collapse of a small town, where a person must come to terms with the impossible as everyone around him disappears, is the scary part. Yea, yea, blood, garlic, inviting them in, crosses, holy water, they're all there, but they aren't why you read the story. They're not why King wrote the story.
"Alone. Yes, that's the key word, the most awful word in the English tongue. Murder doesn't hold a candle to it and hell is only a poor synonym." I'm sure someone else besides Anne Rice has written a story about how being a vampire is lonely and isolating and boo hoo hoo. They might even be entertaining. But unless you, yourself, are an ancient being who feasts on the flesh of yadda yadda yadda, it's much easier to identify with a human who feels alone because everything they know about life seems to be wrong. Vampires don't exist. There is no boogeyman in your closet. The people you love don't come back as monsters. How lonely would you feel if you had the horrible proof that vampires were alive and massacring the town you lived in? You knew no one would believe your incredulous story, and every time someone does believe you, they're turned. I find that possibility much more relatable, even though none of my dead friends have ever knocked on my window or bitten my neck deep enough to draw blood.
There's a scene coming up in It (my reading is ahead of my posting right now), where the writer character (of which there are many in Stephen King books, including 'Salems Lot), exasperated by an overly-intellectual creative writing course, asks " Why does a story have to be socio-anything? Politics...culture...history...aren't those natural ingredients in any story if it's told well? I mean...can't you guys just let a story be a story?"
Thus, I present you with this line from "just a story" about vampires in which King muses "The evil still went on, but now it went on in the hard, soulless glare of neon tubing, of hundred watt bulbs by the billions. Generals planned strategic air strikes beneath the no-nonsense glow of alternating current, and it was all out of control, like a kid's soapbox racer going downhill with no brakes: I was following orders. Yes, that was true, patently true. We were all soldiers, simply following what was written on our walking papers. But where were those orders coming from, ultimately? Take me to your leader. But where is his office? I was just following orders. The people elected me. But who elected the people?"
I'll take that kind of vampire story philosophy over Anne Rice's "Evil is always possible. And goodness is eternally difficult." any night.
--I just remembered a time when I was camp counselor and I was bitten on the neck enough to draw blood. I did get sick for a day, but a couple of state mandated shots seems to have staved off the vampirism. Though I do love rare red meat. And I do tend towards nocturnalism. Hmmmmm....
--Father Callahan is a fairly minor player in this story, but he has the most interesting journey. I'm glad he's the character who we will eventually get to spend more time with.
--3,890 pages toward the tower. Where has everyone else gone?